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Classic rock icon Eric Clapton experienced the life-changing loss of his young son in a 1991 accident. And he made one decision right after the tragedy that he later said he never got over.

What did Clapton do the day his son died that he said he’ll probably never recover from? And what was one of the last memories he made with him?

Eric Clapton performs in 1992, the year after his son's fatal accident
Eric Clapton | Michael Putland/Getty Images

Eric Clapton’s son, Conor Clapton, died in an accident in 1991

Conor was born in 1986, and Clapton credited him with leading him to sobriety. “I really did it for Conor because I thought, no matter what kind of human being I was, I couldn’t stand being around him like that,” the musician wrote in his memoir Clapton: The Autobiography (per Biography).

Sadly, Conor died when he fell from a window on the 53rd floor of a New York apartment building in March 1991 (per AP). The window was reportedly left open after housekeeping cleaned it.

The “Wonderful Tonight” singer wasn’t present but stayed nearby, planning to pick his 4-year-old son up from his ex-girlfriend for a visit later that day. Clapton later told journalist Sue Lawley he went to the apartment building after receiving the news and saw the responders outside.

“I felt like I had walked into someone else’s life,” he shared (per Biography). “And I still feel like that.”

Eric Clapton said he will ‘punish himself forever’ for not going to his son after his accident

Years after Conor’s death, Clapton confessed to feeling guilty about how he responded after receiving the phone call from his ex. He told Lawley, “I was actually getting ready to go out of the hotel room to go and pick [Conor] up for lunch.”

“Lory was on the other end of the phone, and she was hysterical, saying he was dead,” the almost-Beatle recalled. “And I could not let myself believe it.”

In a later interview with Ed Bradley, available on YouTube, Clapton said he “calmly” laid down the phone, then went to the apartment block where Conor fell. He walked by when he saw the parademics and a crowd of people gathered around the child’s body.

Clapton told Bradley that particular moment is still a “terrible thing of shame” and added, “I’ll never, perhaps, recover from [it].”

“I’ll punish myself forever about … why didn’t I go to see him? Because in the end, … the truth is I couldn’t,” he confessed. “I was so frightened.”

Eric Clapton took his son to the circus the night before he died


Eric Clapton’s ‘Circus’ Was About the Night Before His Young Son’s Accidental Death

The tragedy devastated Clapton, but he committed to remaining sober instead of relapsing. He also sought to strengthen his bond with his daughter, Ruth. And he wrote two songs about the loss.

Most notably, the tragedy inspired Clapton to write “Tears in Heaven,” one iconic, heartbreaking song that “Weird Al” Yankovic respectfully thought was beyond parody.

But the night before Conor’s death, Clapton took him to the circus. And he later wrote a song about that unforgettable evening together, aptly called “Circus,” describing his late son as a “little man with his heart so pure.”

How to get help: In the U.S., contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline at 1-800-662-4357.